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China’s energy transition. Pathways for low carbon development

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T. Wang (ed)
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This report describes China's transition to low carbon development in the face of its continuous economic growth and increase in energy demand most of it coal based. The country is now the world's largest carbon dioxide emitter. This has led to concerns about energy supply, local and regional environmental pollution and social stability making China very critical to any global climate change negotiations.

This project investigated the four potential trajectories that China could follow to achieve a given climate change target and slow its emissions growth. The report investigates how the trajectories could be achieved through changes in the economy, society, policies and technologies that shape China's energy system. The report says the four scenarios are distinguished from each other by their relative positions on promoting innovation and their approach to social inequality. They illustrate the possible consequences for investment, economic structure and Chinese policy.

The report highlights the following key findings:
i) the challenge of decoupling carbon emissions growth from economic development is achievable.
ii) The four scenarios show the importance of slowing emissions growth to reach a carbon emissions peak as early as possible.
iii) The success and speed of economic and industrial structural change towards a balanced service economy and high tech industries is likely to be key to China's low carbon development.
iv) Energy efficiency is vital for all four scenarios, although the challenges are different across scenarios.
v) Renewable energy can potentially substitute fossil fuels to meet energy demand growth.
vi) In three out of the four scenarios, carbon capture and storage plays a crucial role in helping China develop within a carbon budget.
vii) Nuclear power can play a role in China's low carbon future.
viii) the transition to a low carbon development pathway does not only depend on technology choices.

The report observes that the economic and social transition within the scenarios has much wider implications than just carbon. The discussion is in the context of the availability of energy and other resources and the implications for China's energy security.

The report discusses the following policy implications:
i) all the four scenarios would require comprehensive climate change and energy strategies to realize them in practice.
ii) an opportunity is presented to strengthen the use of wind power and electric vehicles and to build low carbon industries to foster low carbon innovation.
iii) Developed countries must assist developing countries like China with technology and finance.